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Klez, the poor-man's virus

The class politics of AV reporting

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Despite its virulence, the Klez worm is ignored by the newspapers and dismissed by the digerati. Could the demographics of its victims be a factor? Repeatedly dubbed the most common virus ever in recent reports from on-line newsmongers, it has yet to break into print in any interesting way.

A box of news clippings near my desk, most taken from the front pages of daily newspapers, proclaim the arrival of Melissa, Loveletter, Code Red, Nimda and even Kournikova. However, nothing for Klez or its equally press-shy older brother, SirCam.

Even the National Infrastructure Protection Center, a usually reliable source for high impact alarms and panics on wandering malware, was unusually reticent over this big event in computer virus history. Sure, Klez made the front page of the NIPC Web site, but it was way down the list, well below things like the Spida worm which the organization noted was dangerous because "it copies the password file and the network configuration of the infected machine and sends the information elsewhere via e-mail." Klez, too, snatches e-document rubbish off the infected and sends it willy-nilly around the Net but this lacks the alluring quality inherent in the phrase "password file."

Even in the most recent issue of NIPC's "Cybernotes" publication, Klez faired poorly. A sentence or two on it lies buried beneath pages and pages of errata on software vulnerabilities, patches and bugs that only someone profoundly mentally ill would consider wading through.

Why so lacking in virus celebrity?

Maybe because Klez simply has no lobbyists -- no one to get in the face of the media and screech that it's bringing on the collapse of the Net. It has no one willing to recommend to the National Security Council that the country ought to be disconnected from the Net as a cleansing precaution, as did Nimda.

It also has to do with class. Code Red and Nimda struck at system administrators and those who consider themselves to be guardians of the Net infrastructure. Klez, on the other hand, is the computer disease of commoners -- the Net lower middle and under classes. Celebrity viruses exploit security flaws uncovered by Net security gurus. Unrewarded Klez only exploits flaws in the minds of the masses -- bugs in the wetware no one has to uncover.

Fifteen Minutes of the Mundane

The front page worms lend themselves to academic discussions on the vulnerability of the Net infrastructure. The powerlessness of current anti-virus and anti-worm measures figures heavily in these exercises, specifically the inability to react quickly before the next worm overruns the world. There is even a name for this non-existent master virus of the future: the Warhol worm, so dubbed because it is said to have the power to infect all vulnerable computers worldwide in fifteen minutes.

Klez, SirCam and other persistent mass-mailers, however, only lend themselves to discussions in computer help forums. In them, the much put-upon salvage workers don't have the luxury of the academic salon to indulge in abstract thought about the damn thing. The never-ending arrival of infected users (or just users who are on the receiving end of the virus spam) forces them into serial cutting, pasting and reposting of canned advice on how to find, and maybe even use, free Klez removal software. Perhaps it is a state of affairs that does not translate well onto the front page of newspapers.

In any case, the powerlessness of anti-virus measures is not an issue. Instead, the inability to do anything about the hard cases who always get Klez and its spinoffs makes the job unending and unappealing.

Knowing this, the enterprising virus-writer could aim to eclipse the Warhol worm. This would entail scanning for that segment of the population that fell to Klez, perhaps by using sucker spam. Those who click on some really brain-dead come-on go on a "to hit" list. Probes could be performed stealthily and in increments, until a truly monstrous reservoir of potential targets was accumulated. Then it would be time to fire the virus knowing full well that since it, like Klez, was infecting the type of user immaterial to those who watch for Code Reds, Loveletters and Nimdas, it would fly under the radar of all except the anti-virus software developers.

In honor of the real Warhol, it could be called the Dallesandro worm, after a B-level actor who hangs around way longer than fifteen minutes, just like Klez, always reaching a vast ocean of the chronically befuddled, an audience unlikely to make noise to the minders of the Net infrastructure, the media or the government.

Please don't be snobs, people. Give the virus its due. Klez for Prez!

© 2002 SecurityFocus.com, all rights reserved.

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